Chapter 6: Three Types of Dietary Fat
In societies that have easy access to food, the word “fat” has come to have a negative connotation. Fat can cause obesity and other problems, but this only occurs if it is consumed in an unbalanced proportion. There are three types of fat: unsaturated, saturated, and trans. In this chapter, you will learn where each type comes from and how each affects our health.
The first, unsaturated fat, is known as the “good” fat. All fat is made of hydrogen and carbon molecules bonded to form a chain-like structure. What makes unsaturated fat unique is a double bond between two of the carbon molecules, which causes a bend in its structure. This bent shape keeps the fat molecules from sticking together, which means that unsaturated fat is liquid at room temperature. Why is this important? If it is liquid at room temperature, then unsaturated fat is even more fluid at body temperature. This means that unsaturated fat does not clog blood vessels, nor does it get stored in our fat cells as easily as saturated fat does. Additionally, unsaturated fat is necessary for our bodies to function. Our brains are made from fat, our hearts use it for energy, and our cells cannot regenerate without it. Fat is also a very important component of pregnancy. If girls do not have enough fat storage, they may not start their menstrual cycles on time. Fish, almonds, olive oil, sesame oil, and more all contain this vital substance and, in moderation, such foods are necessary for our survival.
On the other hand, saturated fat is known to be unhealthy. Saturated fat molecules do not have bends in their structure, and are shaped like straight chains. This means that they stick together more easily, causing them to be solid at room temperature. While in the blood stream, saturated fat takes on a solid-liquid state. This makes the blood sticky and can form clogs in the vessels. If a clog is so severe that the vessel breaks, the body’s natural process of healing hardens the vessel. Blood vessels should be flexible and resilient. When they become hardened, cells get less oxygen and nutrients, causing arthritis to begin to set in. To us, saturated fat is almost irresistible. Pizza, cheese, steak, chicken, and burgers all contain large amounts of saturated fat. It is okay to enjoy these foods once in a while, but in order to maintain a healthy life, we must practice self-control.
Unfortunately, there is something far worse than saturated fat…trans-fat. A more appropriate name would be “plastic fat”, because trans-fat never spoils. Napoleon III, Emperor of France, wanted a butter replacement to feed his army and was the first to fund its invention. Since the army would be on the battlefield for extended periods of time, the butter replacement could not spoil. A chemist named Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès was able to create the world’s first margarine by heating up various types of saturated and unsaturated fat. Although ingenious, this invention was deadly. There have been various reports of this fake butter causing long term illnesses in soldiers who ate it.1 Today, manufacturers make trans-fat by adding hydrogen molecules to unsaturated fat. This changes the fat’s molecular structure by “unbending” its shape. The resulting trans-fat is now solid at room and body temperature, causing a host of problems, such as high blood pressure, obesity, and serious heart problems. Unfortunately, trans-fat has been incorporated into our daily lives. Fattening hamburgers, margarine, pies, creamers, chicken nuggets, doughnuts, chips, and the like all have trans-fat, despite increasing concern from health agencies. Be aware that heating unsaturated fats (e.g. frying something with olive oil) also changes the molecules’ structure and creates trans-fat.
So how can we avoid this plastic fat and stop over-consuming saturated fat? Can we avoid something that has been incorporated into our society and daily lives? Of course it can be done. But we must turn our diets toward more natural foods, and we must stop eating large amounts of man-made food products. When eating meat, do not eat too much simply because it tastes good. Keep a correct ratio between the protein, fat, and carbohydrates that you consume. By doing so, you will feed your body what it was designed to digest. As a result, you will feel healthier and have a more balanced life.
- See The Trans-Fat Ban — Food Regulation and Long-Term Health. Among other things, trans fats increase the risk of coronary heart disease. Denmark completely banned partially hydrogenated oils in 2003, and several other countries followed suit.